Biden seeks $33 billion in funding to support Ukraine 2022-04-28 13:24:00


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine – a dramatic escalation of US funding for the war with Russia – and new tools to steal assets from Russia’s oligarchy.

The massive funding request includes more than $20 billion for arms, ammunition, and other military assistance, as well as $8.5 billion in direct economic aid to the government and $3 billion in humanitarian aid. It aims to cover the needs of the war effort through September, the end of the fiscal year.

“We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Biden said at the White House after signing the request Thursday. “The cost of this fight – not cheap – but acquiescing in aggression would be more expensive.”

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The United States has ruled out sending its own or NATO forces to Ukraine, but Washington and its European allies have provided Kyiv with weapons such as drones, heavy howitzers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles.

Biden also wants the ability to seize more money from the Russian oligarchy to pay for the war effort.

The White House said his proposal would allow US officials to seize more of the oligarch’s assets, give money from those confiscated to Ukraine, and further criminalize sanctions evasion.

Suggested steps include allowing the Department of Justice to use the tough US racketeering law once it is published against the mafia, the Influential and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), to build cases against people who evade penalties.

Biden also wants to give prosecutors more time to build such cases by extending the statute of limitations on money laundering trials to 10 years, instead of five. It would also make it a criminal act to withhold money knowingly taken from corrupt transactions with Russia, according to a summary of legislative proposals.

US President Joe Biden during a speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, US, April 21, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hochstein/File Photo

These actions are part of US efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, as well as to help Kyiv recover from a war that has reduced cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad.

Biden has already requested record amounts of money in peacetime to fund research and development at the Pentagon, and efforts to counter perceived threats from countries including Russia.

The full package represents a fifth of Ukraine’s annual economic output before the war, and the $20 billion in US military aid is about a third of what the Russian military spent overall last year, before the war began.

The package will include food security assistance, economic stimulus to Ukraine, and funding to use the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to expand domestic production of key minerals in short supply due to the war. Read more

But the funding procedure could run into problems on Capitol Hill. Biden requested $22.5 billion in money to respond to COVID-19 in March, and Democrats with narrow control of the Senate and House of Representatives may push to pass it at the same time as the Ukrainian measure.

While lawmakers generally support spending on Ukraine, Republican congressional aides said Thursday that efforts to combine war funding with the pandemic response could make it difficult to pass.

“I don’t care how they do it,” Biden said. “They can do it separately or together, but we need both.”

US military aid to Ukraine alone has exceeded $3 billion since Russia launched what it called a “special military operation” to disarm and drive out fascists in Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject this as a flimsy excuse.

The Biden administration said the United States and its European allies have frozen $30 billion in assets owned by wealthy people with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including yachts, helicopters, real estate and the arts.

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Additional reporting by Patricia Gingerli. Editing by Robert Purcell and Alistair Bell

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